Well usually, you know, I just let my ill-temper and bile and caustic thoughts spill out until I come to what I feel is just enough of a reasonable summation that my readers will not carry with them only the dark and despairing thoughts with which I have for so many paragraphs hammered them, but that some might find underneath the hopelessness and futility some measure of the humanity that compels me to write.
But this day I bring something real, valuable, and encouraging. Remember that I have done so because I cannot do it often.
Monday on this page I presented some thoughts on last weekend’s slaughter of sixteen innocent citizens of Afghanistan by one (they say) American soldier who (the early excuse is) was once hit on the head, so was obviously not in his right mind and does not represent the upstanding nature of our fighting forces and should not therefore reflect poorly upon or alter our commitment to our “mission” in that country. You can read it if you wish; they keep these things forever, although new atrocities happen regularly enough that it will soon seem dated.
So you publish these things and some people read them and some of those readers write to you. Of the couple dozen essays of mine published by Common Dreams over several years, this is the first one which has not generated at least a few responses complaining that it contains nasty language or that I have been impolite and contemptuous of persons in high office, although it did have quite a bit of both.
Given the venue, I am not surprised when I stir up a bunch of liberals. So everybody agreed that we are up to no good overseas, and corrupt here at home. But you don’t need to read Cooper to know that. Even the Obama supporters at The Nation will tell you that. A few Democrats in Congress will agree, sometimes. Still, it’s encouraging to have somebody agree with you, particularly I think if you live in some state or neighborhood where Confederate flags abound or your neighbors are all corporate executives and bankers or employees of the military-industrial factories. I am happy to be a source of some comfort.
A better purpose I sometimes serve, I think, is exemplified in the great number of variations I get of “You put into words the [rage, hopelessness, fear, anger, disgust, awe, hope, love, etc.] that I feel.” It is a curiosity caused by the peculiarities of my neurological organization that I can write. I don’t labor over it, I edit on the fly, and while I’m sure it could be better, much of it isn’t bad, and most of it well serves the purpose I intend. So people tell me they need me because I do for them something they cannot well do themselves, but which they need. And you know, I need that. Even Cooper needs to feel good about himself once in a while; I receive more than I give.
Then a few missives always come in whose authors have resolved to do something, to confront, to agitate, to make themselves uncomfortable if necessary to try to reduce some awful or appalling or illegal or immoral thing they knew should be stopped but had not found within themselves the strength to oppose until aroused by my vile language and rude opinions. And that, while encouraging and flattering, is also humbling. There is indeed power in the pen and we who inveigh against abuses of other kinds of power must be very careful that we do not transgress.
I love it when they tell me I make them laugh. As surely as I was destined to write, so too I clearly have larger than average circuitry dedicated to sarcasm. Life is mean and cruel and it is equally ridiculous, and even at the most serious of junctures I am incapable of ignoring the incongruities.
It makes me feel good when I make them cry. We cry too much, too often, over too little. Yes, there is altogether too much cheap emotion about in the land, too many self-help, child-within bloviators stalking the stage of public television during pledge week, urging us to dig down for some old hurt or slight and drag it out and cry, cry, cry. No, the time for your tears is when you find yourself, alone and unguarded, staring at some exposure so real and true and inarguably human that it is as though those words, that picture, are of and about you, though the faces and the descriptions are about persons or events half a world or a hundred years away.
And most often it goes just so: we agree with you, Mr. Cooper; we laughed a lot; some of us cried a little; keep writing, please. I hear from a dozen or a hundred. This week they have written in the several hundreds. Nobody objects to the street language, and several praise it. Did I castigate Obama or Romney or Goldman Sachs or British Petroleum or Benjamin Netanyahu or Dick Cheney or Dick Nixon too much? No, I let the perpetrators off too easily. This essay filled a hole that evidently no other writer had yet taken a shovel to or had not found the right material to move. A good part of America needed to read what I needed to write.
America? Yes, and beyond. Canada, South Africa, India; no continent except Antarctica unreported. This is no credit to me, of course, or the quality of my work. It is a result of the general availability of and near-instantaneous communication afforded by the Internet and E-mail. More, it is a tribute to the effort and purpose of those persons who have taken up my little, locally-produced and narrowly-distributed essay and sent it to friends and relatives, posted it on their blogs, linked to it on whatever social connections site they favor. I suppose I have been tweeted, however perverse an image that conjures.
I think all this is good. It is probably what I hope will happen when, realizing that I must write, I set out to build my piece. Two or three hours later it is gone into the void. The next morning responses trickle in. This time they became a flood. I don’t know what the ratio of those who write me to those who read and were equally moved but remained silent might be, but I don’t doubt it is less than, say, ten to one. They don’t pay you when they publish you at CD, but I am greatly rewarded nonetheless. (And one reader sent me the Charles Bukowski poem, “So You Want To Be A Writer”, which perfectly describes the origin of my peculiar style.)
Now I give you the gift I promised, that for which I again asked you all to gather around. I did get and am still receiving notes from many persons in several countries. This morning I heard from a man in Kabul, Afghanistan. I will change his name, because it is possible he might be put in some danger if certain of his neighbors (or some army sergeant wandering about looking for somebody to bullet and burn in the wee wee hours) should discover he had written to an infidel such as I so clearly am.
Two days ago I asked you to listen and to look and I did indeed intend that you might therefore weep. Today I ask you to meet “John”. Cry tears of joy, people, that he and I have come together, unlikely as it may seem and as impossible as it would once have been and as contrary to the trend of our times as it so decidedly is. He and I are small. Our governments are large and the men who manage them are corrupted even beyond the understanding or imagining of bitter cynics such as I. But he found me, and he found in my words a reflection of himself.
We have changed nothing by this work we do. Except, of course, we change ourselves. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.
Dear Dear Christopher Cooper,
i am from afghanistan and i read your article, it just gave me a bit comfort after i heard about those kids killed by that soldier. i could not find any reason or excuse for that crime which killed 16 humans(at least human bodys). the most painful part of that attack was killing the kids, a kid who sees everybody as her/his father and mother, a kid who knows just hug and love and kiss, a kid who should be protected by everyone it doesn't matter her parents are Afghan, american, japanes or Isrial.... kids belongs to everyone.
it just kills me when people involve the kids in war and kill them. how can they do that ???? then how can they look to their kids while they kill other kids???? are those people human ??? did that French pilot hug his kids after he killed 6 kids in Kapisa province, Afghanistan???? didnt his kids asked him how much you love us ??? all kids are the same your son is like my son and my daughter is like your daughter....
though i am a christian(converted from Islam), i cant see Muslims or other religious people killed or tortured. Jesus never harm anybody and he never taught his followers to do so!!!
thank you very much for your nice article. i appreciate your writing so much. you did a great job and mentioned very good points. i just printed your article and will definitely share this article with other Afghans in my country!!!